Food for Thought
Humpty Dumpty and All the President's Men
George W Bush
The Bush White House has seen a veritable orgy of spring cleaning during the last year or so, with one after another of the shining stars in the administration's firmament crashing down to earth. Not that it has been a smooth transition. A number of them have been dragged kicking and screaming from their positions of authority, usually against the background of a sombre-faced US president proclaiming their many virtues and expressing his regret at their resignation.
Watching this house of cards collapse inward, leaving an increasingly beleaguered “Dubya” standing forlornly amidst the ruins, it is becoming clear that (almost) all the president's men are receiving the comeuppance that they so richly deserve. The original rogues' gallery has seen the departure of a disgraced Colin Powell (perhaps the only one to have willingly handed in his resignation, after realising the impossible situation he had got himself into by associating with this singularly unsavoury bunch of characters), the fall of the once-invincible Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the disappearance of the master of lies and deceit Karl Rove, the discrediting of his lying henchman Lewis “Scooter” Libby and most recently, the departure of the elastic-principled Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales. The few “pillars” of the administration still standing include Secretary of State Condi Rice (who has probably destroyed a political career of enormous potential by her insistent identification with this administration) and Vice-President Dick Cheney, the original Prince of Darkness.
Indeed, the current US administration has demonstrated an unusual degree of singularity in its adherence to a somewhat distinctive style of government. Its approach has consisted of an overwhelming conviction that objective truth is an inconvenience when it stands in the way of key “neo-con” policies. This emphasis on lying and spin as its “style” has been accompanied by an insistence that “substance” is whatever emanates from the White House and its environs, no matter how dubious the science of such claims might be.
A typical example of this was the attempt by the CIA to warn the Bush administration on the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that Saddam Hussein did not appear to have weapons of mass destruction (WMD). According to the CIA's former European chief, Tyler Drumheller, speaking on the CBS news magazine Sixty Minutes in April 2006, the US political leadership dismissed the warning because it was “not interested in what the intelligence showed”. He stated that (as many of us have long suspected), the US and British leaders saw the weapons of mass destruction issue only as a justification for a war that they had already decided to undertake for other reasons. According to Mr. Drumheller, after a former Iraqi foreign minister, Naji Sabri, had informed them about Iraq's lack of chemical and biological weapons, the CIA director at the time George Tenet took the information straight to President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and other senior officials, but it “made no impression on them” (UK Independent).
In addition to disregarding inconvenient truths such as the lack of WMD, this administration has not hesitated to use propaganda and dirty tricks campaigns in the pursuit of its objectives. Nor have its allies, such as the UK government, entirely refrained from using such tactics themselves. The Blair Government's September 2002 dossier (the highly controversial “dodgy dossier” that was a key part of events leading to the scandalous death of the British scientist Dr. David Kelly) contained a claim that Saddam Hussein had attempted to source uranium for his nuclear weapons programme from Niger. This claim was repeated in George Bush's State of the Union address in January 2003 despite CIA reservations, and later became a central element in the argument for war, as proof of Saddam's “evil intentions”.
The CIA dispatched a former ambassador, Joseph Wilson, to investigate the Niger claims, but he concluded that the allegations were false. Related documents that were subsequently passed on by Italian authorities to the UN nuclear agency were declared to be forgeries in March 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq. Despite this, both the US and UK governments continued to repeat the Niger claims well after their veracity had been discredited.
Such active misinformation by senior figures in the administration was accompanied by a wider strategy that included the production of fake news segments making claims about successes in the war in Iraq and other government policies. A non-profit group, Centre for Media and Democracy, found that over a 10 month period at least 77 television stations in the US were making use of the fictitious news broadcasts, described as "very good at mimicking what a real, independently produced television report would look like." Among items provided by the Bush administration was one report actually produced by the State Department, showing an Iraqi-American in Kansas City saying "Thank you Bush. Thank you USA." Disturbingly, the State Department was just one of twenty federal agencies that have produced and distributed such fictitious news items (UK Independent).
Quite apart from its continued use as a piece of propaganda, the erroneous claims about Saddam Hussein's attempts to source uranium from Niger were to have serious consequences further down the line. After returning from his mission, undertaken on behalf of the CIA, the former ambassador Joseph Wilson took less than a week to conclude that the claims were false. He reported to the CIA that because of Niger's uranium industry being controlled by an international consortium, there was no way that the country could have exported more uranium without drawing attention. Yet neither the Bush or Blair governments paid any notice to the critical information provided by this CIAsponsored mission.
In mid-2003, Mr. Wilson authored an article in the New York Times entitled “What I Did Not Find in Africa” thoroughly discrediting the claims previously made, and stating that “Questioning the selective use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq is neither idle sniping nor 'revisionist history' as Mr. Bush has suggested. The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security.” The reaction of the White House was furious, and led to an immediate fallout for Mr. Wilson and his family.
It is widely believed that an effort was subsequently undertaken to actively target Joseph Wilson for his effrontery in speaking out. It was masterminded by Mr. Bush's special advisor Karl Rove, and the office of the Vice-President Dick Cheney, and payback for Mr. Wilson came in the form of scapegoating his wife, Valerie Plame. She was identified as an undercover agent by the columnist Robert Novak, the leaking of her identity emanating from a high-level source within the administration.
The consequences of this were significant not only because of the “dirty tricks” aspect of the smear campaign against the couple, but also because the exposure of Ms. Plame as a CIA agent meant potentially endangering her life. Furthermore, quite apart from these concerns, revealing a CIA agent's identity is against the law in the United States.
A special prosecutor was appointed to investigate the leak, and suspicion soon fell on the office of the Vice-President Dick Cheney, whose chief of staff Lewis Libby took such pains to protect his boss, that he was put on trial himself for trying to frustrate the investigation! Further evasion, lies of omission (and possibly commission) and red herrings by the dozen followed.
Among other things, Mr. Libby claimed that far from being involved in the leaking of Mr. Plame's identity, he only learnt from a reporter who she was, two days before her name appeared in print. But some of the most well-known journalists in Washington went into the witness stand to testify that they had been told in person by Mr. Libby that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. In one case, Mr. Libby was said to have revealed this information three weeks before he claimed he became aware of the fact! Undeterred, defence lawyers for Mr. Libby maintained that if he had made a mistake it was simply the result of a faulty memory caused by pressure of work… This of course inevitably begs the question of whether somebody so perilously close to becoming an Alzheimer's sufferer should be holding such an important position in the administration!
Be that as it may, the jury concluded that Mr. Libby had directly lied to cover up the involvement of Vice-President Cheney in the campaign to discredit Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame. Libby therefore became the first Bush government official to be convicted over the flawed intelligence that was used to justify the invasion and subsequent destruction of Iraq. Despite a widespread perception among the jurors that Lewis Libby was simply the “fall guy” for more senior officials within the administration, he was found guilty of obstructing justice, lying and perjury, involving a potential sentence of up to 25 years in jail.
Of course, the sympathy expressed by some jurors should not be taken too far. Not only was Mr Libby subsequently pardoned by the big boss, President Bush - despite heavy criticism of Mr Bush for taking such a decision - there are also other indications that Lewis Libby is himself a somewhat less than savoury character.
Despite his avowedly conservative credentials, in 1996 Libby published a novel, The Apprentice. This described the experience of a group of travellers stranded in northern Japan in 1903. The publishers (who were presumably in favour of selling the book!) described it as "an everyday tale of bestiality and paedophilia in 1903 Japan... [and] packed with sexual perversion, dwelling on prepubescent girls and their training as prostitutes"…! Just the kind of thing you would expect a pillar of the Republican Party to come up with, really…
(to be continued)
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